Yaxchilan – Trade City on the River

This river side city has some of the most impressive walls and stonework of any other site in the Mayan civilization. It lies near the Usumacinta River on the Yucatán Peninsula. Although it existed some 400 years earlier, it really became a popular trade centre from between 580 CE and 800 CE. Due to the damage to some walls and other obvious signs, historians believe that the city fell due to local warfare and disruption.

Some of the most unique architectural features of Yaxchilan include massive stone pillars that seem to indicate the bridge was built across the river, the addition of Hyatt terraces on the hills surrounding the city, and intricate stone roof designs that towered some three or four stories overhead. The largest structure in the city was built to honour a king designated by the descriptor Bird Jaguar who was immortalized in the top of the roof in intricate carvings and stucco work. According to the legends depicted there, this king was quite instrumental in expanding the city and building dozens of new monuments to various gods and other rulers.

One of the major attractions of this Mayan city comes from the unique and plentiful sculptures and stele on both buildings and simply propped up around the property. There is a type of historical representation of artistic change that occurred somewhere around 850 CE. The front forward figures with less detail gave way to profile designs with high degrees of intricacy.

Some told stories of the might of the Bird Jaguar king, showed bloodletting rituals, and brutal treatment of captives. Depictions of the rain god, a serpent, and the Queen are also visible with remnants of colour still visible on their surfaces. What are already incredibly detailed three-dimensional carvings would have looked absolutely stunning in bold reds, blues, and greens.

Although some of the stelae and lintel designs have been removed to various museums in the past few decades, interested tourists who visit Central America looking for the mysteries of the Maya people can still see plenty of carvings, hieroglyphics, and amazing architecture all around them. Yaxchilán has a lot to offer both historians and curious people from all over the world who want to learn more about ancient civilizations.